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J Hum Genet. 2006;51(3):161-70. Epub 2006 Jan 18.

De novo COX2 mutation in a LHON family of Caucasian origin: implication for the role of mtDNA polymorphism in human pathology.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 325 University Museum, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6398, USA.


Recent studies suggest that certain mutations with phylogeographic importance as haplogroup markers may also influence the phenotypic expression of particular mitochondrial disorders. One such disorder, Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), demonstrates a clear expression bias in mtDNAs belonging to haplogroup J, a West Eurasian maternal lineage defined by polymorphic markers that have been called 'secondary' disease mutations. In this report, we present evidence for a de novo heteroplasmic COX2 mutation associated with a LHON clinical phenotype. This particular mutation-at nucleotide position 7,598-occurs in West Eurasian haplogroup H, the most common maternal lineage among individuals of European descent, whereas previous studies have detected this mutation only in East Eurasian haplogroup E. A review of the available mtDNA sequence data indicates that the COX2 7598 mutation occurs as a homoplasic event at the tips of these phylogenetic branches, suggesting that it could be a variant that is rapidly eliminated by selection. This finding points to the potential background influence of polymorphisms on the expression of mild deleterious mutations such as LHON mtDNA defects and further highlights the difficulties in distinguishing deleterious mtDNA changes from neutral polymorphisms and their significance in the development of mitochondriopathies.

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